Per the league office, a policy has been unanimously (by all who voted, Jed York of the 49ers abstained) adopted by the NFL’s owners to lend structure and clarity to the national anthem performances at NFL games this coming season. This new policy, as written, provides little of either.
According to the statement from commissioner Goodell, players may choose to stay in the locker room for the duration of the anthem, but if they are on the sideline, they are now required to stand at attention. Any team with players who “protest” (a term which remains ill-defined, at best) during the playing of the anthem will be subject to a fine from the NFL league office. Teams are free to adopt their own internal discipline for players who choose to protest despite the new policy. That leaves a lot to be defined, since some owners have already indicated that there will be little, or no, punishment for protesting on their teams, while others, like the Steelers, have indicated that anything short of full compliance will result in discipline. It’s a piece of policy that attempts to placate a vocal, if ill-informed segment of NFL fans who think that this is about the armed forces, or veterans. In that regard, the policy might accomplish its goal.
The owners are feeling financial pressure from some fans who are willfully misconstruing these protests and lashing out, calling for enforced patriotism. That’s what this is. An attempt to force some of America’s most visible people of color to stand quietly, to behave like children, to keep the dollars flowing in. Either that, or be invisible, hidden from view in the locker room.
It won’t work. Protests will evolve, as they always do. I’m keen to see some creative uses of the time to help spread the message that Colin Kaepernick, Eric Reid and others brought into the national spotlight. Clearly, we need to be talking more, not less, about issues surrounding police brutality and overreach in communities of color.
I won’t be the first, nor will I be the last to say this.
You got it wrong, NFL owners.
You looked down the barrel of history and chose to be on the wrong side.
You bowed to a misguided complaint from fans for financial reasons, when you had the benefit of understanding the true nature of these protests.
You chose to attempt to suppress free speech instead of standing up for the athletes who line your pockets.
You did this like cowards, behind closed doors, without consulting the NFLPA, because you knew that it would never fly.
I don’t have all the answers. But I do know that a forced salute is a hollow gesture, and that any nation that demands blind compliance from its citizens while stripping them of their free speech is heading down the wrong path.